COVID-19 is the biggest disruption, the world is experiencing right now, and the impact is far more devastating than one can imagine. The world has come to a standstill due to this deadly corona virus and only effective solution to break the cycle of rapid spread so far is “Social Distancing”, and to tackle the spread there are lockdowns of cities and even countries across the world. Enforcing lockdown and social distancing regulations and practicing social distancing is something redefining our daily life. The impact of new social norms and the devastation of a pandemic will be catastrophic on mental health. A long-long battle is ahead of us to bring back normalcy to the World.

At this hour of the biggest crisis, lets fight covid-19 together by following rules and regulations specified by the authorities. I am sure, medical researchers/ scientists will soon develop a vaccine and a universal treatment protocol to prevent the spread and kill the virus. At this difficult time, we pray, stay safe and stay healthy.

We should not forget, the world has overcome many calamities, hardships and devastating times in last many centuries and like before, this time too, we will come out strongly in a few months if not a year.

No doubt, covid-19 has already brought havoc to the global economy, various industries are in the red zone and right now, it will be difficult to calculate the exact losses but even layman can predict an outbreak of severe economic recession is looming over us.

At this hour of a major crisis to speak about sports is not the right time, but we can’t deny the fact that resumption of sporting activities will bring cheer to the lives of many people, and sporting activities would greatly help to overcome the mental agony and lifting the spirit.

No denying the fact that sports are going to be severely hit due to expected recession and severity of the impact will only be known as and when we will get the exact data, that too after the halt of covid-19. It is a million-dollar question, how long the world has to wait to get rid of this devastating virus.

Already, Olympics 2020, Euro 2020 and other many sports events got postponed to 2021 and there is a bigger challenge before the sporting federations and leagues across the world to find a solution to already disrupted calendar. No one is sure when everyone will be ready to sit in a boardroom to plan the way forward, but the uniqueness of the situation is such that all stakeholders are equally hit and of course, challenges for each of the stakeholders will be different due to varied responsibilities and obligations towards each other. However, understanding of the situation is such which would lead to consensus in decision making for the good of sports.

The extent of challenge sports is going to face due to the pandemic is difficult to pinpoint right now, however, it is going to be a severe one, and the most pertinent question is, how many sporting organisations have the capacity or wherewithal to deal with this crisis and resume normal services as before?

Now let’s not analyse the capacity of the Sports Bodies specifically to corona impact. However, this is a perfect opportunity for Global Sports Leaders to think out of the box, revolutionary step and implement an innovative plan to strengthen the global sports governance structure with a sole objective to further strengthen sports and extend the value of sports to the larger good of sports and the world.

It is the right opportunity, because in normal circumstances top leadership in sports doesn’t have time and political will or feels the necessity or pressure from stakeholders to plan and execute disruptive-innovative solutions, especially in the area of governance, beyond their own sports. In normal times, the majority of sports leaders are pre-occupied on a day to day developments and there are no way sports organisations in normal circumstances think out of the box until and unless there is a major crisis with sports.

What I am suggesting, is entirely my thought, might not be endorsed as a good idea and a few might not find this as a practical solution for transforming of global sports governance structure. However, what I feel important, is to begin a discussion at all levels of sports structure, across the globe, to find the best solution for implementing an effective governance model for sports which helps in elevating the values of sports for the good of the sports and the world.

Globally, we would need an apex sports governance and regulatory body which is one level above International Olympic Committee (IOC), becomes the top-most global sports regulatory body. It can be named or called, World Sports Regulatory Organisation (WSRO). The question is, who should set this, basically, my thought is that it should be set by the United Nations, the UN must pass a resolution to this effect and all the International Sports Federations including IOC should be party to this setup.

WSRO can be part of UN Economic and Social Council and can also be structured as part of Sustainable Development Goals. When UN officials, IOC and ISFs come together for all important, one cause, that is, extending the power of sports to the larger humanitarian cause then there can be a consensus to establish a body like WSRO. UN very much understands the value of sports as it is actively involving sports in many of the campaigns propagated by the UN, whether it related to women’s empowerment, conflict situations, peace initiatives, malnutrition, health, rehabilitations, social issues, etc.,

IOC, ISFs and UN must take the lead in creating this apex sports regulatory body and this new body won’t be an interference or conflict to the existing system of sports globally. It won’t threaten any of the existing systems but only strengthens and improve things at all levels of sports which would be well received by all stakeholders, governments, civil society, humanitarian organisations, sports fans, media, social organisations, women groups, etc. etc.,

With this move leadership in sports won’t be seen as a power-hungry politician, but as champions of sports and humanity. ISFs joining hands with UN permanently is a win-win situation when world of sports is facing many challenges. Many of the sports leaders aspire to occupy the highest posts in ISFs basically to contribute and improve the sport they are passionate about and it is not entirely the fault of leadership for all ills in sports but it is basically due to existing governing system.

Many would say, why we need this kind of Global Organisation in Sports when the IOC is very much mandated to function as a regulatory body, highest sports regulatory body. No, we would need an apex body over IOC as global situation is not same as what it was in the 20th century and the problems and issues of the 21st Century is complex and different where we need an absolutely independent, UN mandated organisation to regulate International Sports Federations (ISFs).

My proposal is – UN should designate a 9-member Executive Board and out of 9 members IOC should depute 2 members on the Executive Board. All these members cannot be elected members, these members should be a full-time executive board member. A Chairman, Secretary General, other members should be selected by the UN panel without any interference from any ISFs, except 2 nominated members of the IOC. IOC should also appoint full-time members without any elections and all these members should be selected by the UN who are not part of any sporting organisations who are independent and having a credible track record with no conflict of interests.  No point in presenting what should be the charter and statutes of the WSRO right now as it requires an elaborate discussion with all the key stakeholders and when the UN, IOC, ISFs and other experts will get involved, then these wise personalities will frame a revolutionary charter for putting in place an effective sports regulatory body for the good of the sports and humanity.

As the world of sports is going through many challenges, the biggest challenges are doping, integrity, racism, lack of accountability, scandals, child abuse, stakeholder disputes, security, political uncertainty, wars, terrorism, social issues, etc., and these issues have to have credible and lasting solutions.

Sports arbitration, Anti-Doping, Sports Integrity/ Anti-Corruption, Ethical, Electoral, etc. matters should come under WSRO. Thus, CAS, WADA, like organisation should become part of WSRO. The judicial bodies in the IOC and ISFs should also be appointed by this body to maintain an absolute independence of these bodies. WSRO should form an Ethics Chamber and all ethical matters related to the IOC and ISFs should be dealt directly by this new body. Further, the electoral committee should be appointed by WSRO for the election of the top leadership position in IOC and ISFs.

The above steps would elevate governance level of ISFs and thus these steps will not only help transparency but also improve perception of sports organisations. Generally, electoral politics is one big key area where governance get compromised and with this new proposed structure, leadership in sports won’t be forced to take any steps which would put sports into any bad reputation. Overall confidence level in sports federations will go up and there will be a positive chain reaction across the structure and stakeholders for the good of sports.

The most important impact or outcome of this proposal will be an increased power to act against organised crimes prevailing outside the sports structure, whether it is doping, fixing, illegal betting, etc., In the current structure ISFs can only sanction its stakeholders but not to any individual or organisation which is not part of the system. The IOC and ISFs will be able to enforce sanctions and legal actions through WSRO as the apex sports body will be able enforce stricter punishment to any organisation by effectively engaging global or national law enforcing agencies.

Additionally, during a major crisis with ISFs or IOC this proposed body WSRO should monitor the ISFs in partnership with interim leadership or committee to bring stability and normalise the functions. During transition phase neutral interventions would lead to more openness in the organisation which would result in adopting appropriate reform measures. The whole biases in the system will become zero and that situation would not only help the ISFs but also the sport itself.

As we know, every sports organisation is independent and autonomous and with this new body, it will only strengthen this independence of the sports organisations. Sports Federations have to understand that there are far more critics of sports federations than friends or partners and this is not encouraging situation for sports and this negative situation is basically due to the overall structure of sports governance globally. The governance structure should be such which promotes accountability, improves internal democracy, zero tolerance on corruption and abuse of power, inclusive approach, prudent financial management system, etc.

The major aspect which we have to understand is that any Sports Organisation which is into organisation of mega events or world cups will always get into issues because Olympics or World Cups are complex sporting events to organise as there are multiple stakeholders, big money and high stakes, and complexity starts from the bidding process itself and in every phase there are different levels of complexities, whether during the events or after the events. That is the reason any sporting organisation which is responsible to organise sporting events should not be responsible for overseeing the global sports governance regulations.

Thus, this one reform, may sound very disruptive in nature, but it eases IOC from unnecessary troubles to govern ISFs and fight other global challenges with sports. Since 1896 Olympics have only grown bigger and bigger and the IOC has done a fabulous job in promoting Olympism across the world.

It is also in the interest of the UN and other global organisations to think about this, because the time has come for this kind of idea to get implemented. The UN is taking sports more than before for managing various humanitarian crises and who else can understand better the value of sports. It is not that every ISFs is badly structured or poorly governed, but important is to understand we have to protect and elevate the value of sports and it is in the interest of ISFs and sports to think out of the box and start an open discussion on the global sports governance model.

With the new governance structure at world sports, there is a great possibility that there will be less and less political interference at the National level because with WSRO in place the power of the ISFs will be far higher and significant.  Thus, government interference will come down drastically and that would protect the independence of sports federations at every level.

When we have a solid opportunity in front of us to initiate something new for the betterment of sports, then we shouldn’t miss it and without reforming the global sports governance model we won’t be able to meet the current challenges sports is facing from various sides, whether it is criminal syndicates, illegal betting, drug abuse, cross border tensions, geopolitical impact on sports, hell lot of social issues, and not to forget sustainability aspects of sports, commercial aspects, etc., are already having a major impact on our sporting landscape globally.

Let’s open our mind and start an open discussion for elevating the value of sports and extend the value of sports across the globe through transforming the existing governance structure in sports.

Long Live Sports!

By Shaji Prabhakaran

Football Consultant| Sports Expert| President Football Delhi (FA)| Author| Ex-FIFA/AIFF| Consultant AFC, FIFA, ICC| CIES| Development| Management|

3 thoughts on “Covid-19 an Opportunity to Revolutionise Global Sports Governance Structure”
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